10 years before Atascadero killings, a rape in Fresno offered a chilling preview

SLO sheriff announces a suspect in two Atascadero cold case killings

SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson held a news conference on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, to identify a suspect in two 41-year-old killings in Atascadero, California. Here's a look at the case.
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SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson held a news conference on Wednesday, April 17, 2019, to identify a suspect in two 41-year-old killings in Atascadero, California. Here's a look at the case.

More than 50 years before Arthur Rudy Martinez was named as the suspect in a pair of gruesome cold case killings in Atascadero, he provided the Central Valley with a ominous preview of the crimes he would later allegedly commit.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday matched DNA from Martinez to evidence found at the scenes of two North County homicide scenes.

Jane Morton Antunez, 30, was found dead in November 1977 with her throat slashed in the back of her family’s car near Santa Barbara Road and Highway 101.

Two months later, in January 1978, Patricia Dwyer, 28, was found dead in her rented home on Del Rio Road. She had been stabbed in the chest with a knife from her kitchen drawer.

The search for the women’s killer had gone cold by November 1978, but DNA evidence collected at the homicide scenes led to a break in the cases more than 40 years later.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson on Wednesday announced the California Department of Justice used familial DNA — and an old razor found in the Fresno medicine cabinet of Martinez’s girlfriend — to confirm he matched the crime scenes.

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The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced on April 17, 2019, the resolution of two murder cases from the 1970s. Jane Antunez, 30, left, was found on Nov. 18, 1977, with her throat slit in the back seat of her car near Highway 101 and Santa Barbara Road in Atascadero. Two months later, Patricia Dwyer, 28, right, was found stabbed to death in her rented home on Del Rio Road in Atascadero on Jan. 11, 1978. On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the SLO County Sheriff’s Office announced they had identified a suspect, Arthur Rudy Martinez, in the 41-year-old cold case. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A rapist at age 18

Martinez was 18 and living in Selma when he was arrested in June 1967 for allegedly raping a 48-year-old Fresno “businesswoman” in a store on Cedar Avenue and then shooting her in the head, according to archived stories from the Fresno Bee.

He apparently entered the store with burglary on his mind and was surprised to find the woman. Martinez overpowered her, tied her hands and raped her. He then shot the woman in the head, although the bullet didn’t kill her.

Instead, it “plowed under her scalp and emerged from the top of her head,” according to the Bee.

Martinez was arrested after law enforcement officers found his pickup in the Cedar Lanes parking lot. He was sitting at the restaurant counter sipping a cup of coffee when he was apprehended, according to the Bee.

In October 1967, Martinez pleaded guilty to rape and assault to commit murder, charges that included the shooting of a 26-year-old woman that May outside her East Nevada Avenue home.

Martinez shot her in the right hip with a .22 caliber rifle, according to the Bee.

As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped additional burglary and assault-with-intent-to-murder charges stemming from another incident in which Martinez allegedly fired shots at a 16-year-old girl.

According to sentencing guidelines at the time, Martinez was eligible to be sentenced to one to 50 years in prison for the rape conviction, while the assault-to-commit-murder charge carried one to 14 years in prison and the assault-with-a-deadly-weapon charge had a penalty of six months to 10 years in prison.

Martinez ultimately spent about 10 years in prison for his Central Valley crimes — he was paroled to Atascadero in May 1977, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

The violence resumes

Less than six months after his release, the SLO County Sheriff’s Office says, Martinez had returned to preying on woman, only now after raping Antunez, he made sure she didn’t survive to identify her attacker.

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The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced the resolution of two 41-year-old Atascadero murder cases on Wednesday, April 17, 2018. Suspect Arthur Rudy Martinez was identified with DNA evidence. He died in prison in 2014. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The Antunez and Dwyer killings bore some similarities to the Fresno rape and shooting. Both women were also sexually assaulted after having their arms tied behind their backs.

Following the Atascadero killings, Martinez left for Washington state, and by November 1978, he’d been sentenced to life in prison for a series of rapes and robberies he committed in Spokane.

He escaped in 1994 and lived under an alias in Fresno for 20 years, until he turned himself into authorities in 2014.

Martinez died in 2014 of the terminal cancer that prompted him to return to prison to seek treatment.

Det. Clint Cole, the Sheriff’s Office’s cold case investigator, asks that anyone with information about Martinez call him at 805-788-2157.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers communities in northern San Luis Obispo County. Lindsey became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.